Saturday, January 24, 2009

Simply an Amazing Book: The Invention of Hugo Cabret

Last week I finished reading a book to my class that very much fascinated my fourth grade students. It was the first time that I have read "The Invention of Hugo Cabret" to a class even though I enjoyed reading it myself over a year ago. The Author, Brian Selznick, is also an illustrator and although this book looks daunting at over 500 pages, it is not a difficult read because the story is often told through the wonderful drawings that can sometimes go on, page after page.

"The Invention of Hugo Cabret" is a magical book that transports the reader to Paris in the early part of the 20th century. We meet a boy named Hugo who lives in the walls of a Paris train station. Hugo has many secrets as he tends to the job of keeping the clocks in the train station accurate. His biggest secret is a mysterious machine (an automaton) that he is trying to fix. He steals toy parts from a toy store to fix his machine and is caught by the cranky owner. He also meets a young girl that he has a hard time trusting. This mysteries in this story that need to be solved and how the characters are connected and blend together in a wonderful way captured my classes attention so much that they did not like it when I paused in my reading each day.

In a world where our children are enamored by technology, they are brought back to a similar time in history, when technology was in the process of producing amazing magic. Without giving away too much of the story it does involve a type of sophisticated machine called an automaton. The Franklin Institute in Philadelphia has one such automaton and you can view it here:

The book also has a "real" historic character in it: Georges Melies, a very early filmmaker. Upon reading the book, children learn a little bit about the history and the magic of filmmaking. Here is a video of Georges Melies "A Trip to the Moon" a movie that plays an important role in the book.

You can find many more of Georges Milies' videos on Youtube.

Here is an entertaining video that explains about Georges Milies and his use of special effects in making his films. It also explains how you can do your own special effects with a video camera. While we are dazzled by today's special effects that can make just about anything possible and real, it is interesting to see how this technology started.

Here author Brian Selznick explains his book:

This is a great book and my students continue to enjoy it as they love toting such a big book around after taking it out of the library. Kids will only do this with books that they really love. Otherwise, they would be carrying dictionaries everywhere!

Some intreresting discussion questions for the book can be found at One-Minute Book Reviews.

Monday, January 19, 2009

Simply a Superb Sequel: "Hate That Cat" by Sharon Creech

While strolling through Barnes and Noble this weekend, I was thrilled to see that Sharon Creech has written a sequel to my favorite children's book, "Love That Dog".

The new book, "Hate That Cat" is just as wonderful as her first book. I love these simple books as they bring together animals, poetry, teaching, and the struggles of boyhood in a very readable and entertaining way.

In "Hate That Cat" we have the same setup as the first book, we find that Miss Stretchberry moves up a grade so that she is still Jack's teacher. They still communicate through a poetry journal and Miss Stretchberry continues to use great poetry and poets (T. S. Eliot, Alfred, Lord Tennyson and Edgar Allan Poe) to inspire her class.

The class learns about the sounds of poetry in this book through devices like alliteration and onomatopoeia. I was tickled to see that "The Bells" by Edgar Allen Poe was one of the featured poems. I used this poem for many years with my own class as a beginning point for writing "sound" poems and it is always fun to say the word "tintinnabulation". Seeing that it is the 200th anniversary of Edgar Allen Poe's birth this month, I will have to revisit this poem in my class. Another featured poem in this story that I always use in my class is "This is Just to Say" by William Carlos Williams, as well as a return to his other wonderful poem "The Red Wheelbarrow". Although Walter Dean Myers doesn't return to visit the class, he does send letters to Jack and Jack learns that Walter Dean Myers' son, Christopher, is also a notable poet.

It is sounds that permeate this story. Besides the poetry, we are introduced to Jack's mother in this volume, and we learn about her inability to hear sounds and that becomes an important component to the story. That, and cats! The book may be titled "Hate That Cat" but Jack has his reasons. In the end the hated cat plays an important role and of course Jack falls in love with his own little kitten.

"Love That Dog" remains my favorite children's book, but "Love That Cat" will take a place right next to it on my bookshelf. I can't wait to share it with my class, and I know that I will see students rereading the book again and again just like they do after I read them "Love That Dog". I am simply thrilled that Sharon Creech wrote this second book!

Here is a teacher's guide to both books.

Here is just the first verse of:

The Bells
by Edgar Allan Poe

Hear the sledges with the bells,
Silver bells!
What a world of merriment their melody foretells!
How they tinkle, tinkle, tinkle,
In the icy air of night!
While the stars that oversprinkle
All the heavens, seem to twinkle
With a crystalline delight;
Keeping time, time, time,
In a sort of Runic rhyme,
To the tintinnabulation that so musically wells
From the bells, bells, bells, bells,
Bells, bells, bells-
From the jingling and the tinkling of the bells.

Listen to "The Bells"

Edgar Allen Poe - The Bells
Found at bee mp3 search engine

This is a strange and "Poe"ishly nightmarish version of "The Bells"

Edgar Allen Poe/Symphologic - The bells
Found at bee mp3 search engine

If you want a great book for children to introduce them to Edgar Allen Poe then get a copy of "Poetry for Young People: Edgar Allen Poe". It has an interesting mini-biography as well as his poems and in his case poetic pieces based on some of his stories. It has short introductions to each poem, pictures, and lots of definitions for the difficult vocabulary words. There are other similar books by the publisher about other poets that I have in my classroom covering poets such as: Emily Dickinson, Robert Frost, and William Shakespeare . I still have to purchase the poetry books of William Blake, Carl Sandburg, Lewis Carrol, Walt Whitman, and Langston Hughes. These books are a great resource for both students and teachers.

Tuesday, January 13, 2009

A Simple and Fun Way to Teach Vocabulary

I love to teach vocabulary in my classroom. I know my students enjoy learning and using interesting words. I use the Elements of Reading vocabulary program that was developed by Isabel Beck with great success.

Here is another website that has a word story for every day of the year and introduces students to interesting words, usages, and etymology. The Year of Vocabulary-Just for the Kids website is from Susan Ohanian, the author of "The Great Word Catalogue".